This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
Bias may seem a vague concept for business, but people’s biases cause massive errors in business decisions, including communication decisions. Therefore we need to be aware of the most common biases and how to counter them in planning and preparing for major activities.
Experts believe around 75% of major decision-making in business goes wrong due to unperceived biases. Similar problem rates occur in communication projects. For instance, decisions to launch new products often stem from action-oriented biases: “three out of four launches fail to meet revenue expectations and many result in significant losses“. Likewise with major issues: people may feel impelled to act because they feel they need to be seen to do something, whereas a non-response may be a better way forward.
We intuitively believe we understand biases. Just look at all those biased decisions of referees and umpires in sports – as well as all those biased politicians! Biases are also present in many aspects of important business decision-making.
A bias is a person’s strong inclination of the mind or a preconceived opinion about something or someone that can shape their decisions. Biases cause people to behave in a particular way, influenced by psychological, social, or physiological factors. Biases are often subconscious and illogical.
Everyone has biases. We see them in other people all around us – more than 50 biases have been identified – and yet we tend to be blind to our own biases (this is a form of bias in itself – overconfidence).
The best point to minimize bias during the decision process for a business proposal is when you decide what information needs collecting. Although bias can be deliberate, it is usually found when people just try to avoid information overload, and make quick, inadequate judgments on what information is needed. To counter this tendency, ensure the process is systematic and the information is high quality.
Otherwise you may rely on your previous experience to guide your search. This earlier experience may bias your judgment and may lead you in the wrong direction.
If others know the answer you want as their leader, this contaminates the whole process. It can mean people persist with a bad idea because they know their leader supports it.
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